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Debate on Sex Education Law Reopens Abortion Divide

Old divisions flare up as legislators move to improve implementation of the law.

By | [email protected] | September 5, 2018 2:33pm

Silvia Lospennato. (Photo via La Nacion).Silvia Lospennato. (Photo via La Nacion)
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On August 8th, the Argentine Senate ruled to reject the bill to legalize abortion after months of fraught campaigning between “pro-choice” verdes and “pro-life” celestes. Nearly a month on, discussions about the implementation of national sex education are reopening old wounds as deputies realign themselves by ideological leaning on this issue.

This Tuesday, deputies who had voted in favor of the bill to legalize abortion presented a ruling that would ensure more effective compliance with the national Comprehensive Sexual Education Law (ESI). Meanwhile, anti-abortion legislators mounted their criticism against the measure and refused to sign it, citing a “lack of discussion” and raising issue with several points in the ruling’s draft.

(Photo via Lower House Press Office).

The Comprehensive Sexual Education Law was passed in 2006 and, in theory, establishes that all students have the right to receive a comprehensive sex education in all public and private education institutions, understanding comprehensive sex education to imply the inclusion of biological, psychological, social, emotional and ethical aspects. It aims to give a more complex education that breaks away from heteronormativity and gender stereotypes to promote responsible attitudes and a respect and understanding for the complexities of sexuality.

So far, so good, right? Well, despite the best intentions of the law, the problem was that few students had access to this comprehensive sex education. Even 12 years after it was passed, only nine out of Argentina’s 24 provinces adhere to the law. Speaking to Infobae last year, Mabel Bianco, President and Founder of the Foundation for the Study and Investigation of the Woman (FEIM), said that the law had failed.

“The problem is that [the law] did not reach the classrooms, it’s an unfulfilled law, which is why we still do not see any results,” she said. “There are no statistics but what we know is that it isn’t given in the provinces…The Ministry of Education provided materials and trained teachers but did not deal with the political problem in the Federal Education Council.” Now, legislators are attempting to tackle this regional discrepancy and ensure sex education for all.

Pro-lifers demonstrating earlier this year. (Photo via El Dia de Gualeguaychú).

The initiative was presented in a plenary meeting of the Education and Family, Women, and Childhood and Adolescence Committees. The atmosphere was tense, in a room filled with people sporting the blue pañuelo of the “pro-choice” campaign. Speeches were interrupted with heckling from the second floor of “The first educators are the parents,” “I educate my children,” and, more succinctly, “Degenerates!”

Heckling aside, yesterday’s ruling would declare the law “of public order,” meaning that it would become mandatory in all state and private educational institutions in Argentina. To achieve this, it would delete article five of the current law which gives academic institutions the option to adopt the law to fit “their institutional ideology and the convictions of their members.” Those in favor of the ruling maintain that religious schools in particular have exploited this loophole to avoid teaching sex education.

“The clerical lobby is trying to avoid modifications to the application of the Sexual Education Law,” argued Romina Del Plá from Frente Izquierda. “And all the while, women continue to die from clandestine abortions.”

Romina del Plá. (Photo via Partido Obrero).

The pro-choice side’s rejection of the ruling appears somewhat hypocritical, given that sex education was cited as a key reason not to approve the bill to legalize abortion. In Health Minister Adolfo Rubinstein’s speech before the Senate’s Health Committee, some pro-life legislators lauded the impact of sex education in reducing the number of hospitalizations due to complications from clandestine abortions.

María Cristina Fiore Viñuales, Senator for Salta and one of the abortion bill’s loudest detractors, said that sex education was the answer to the problem of maternal mortality as a result of back-street abortions. She said that even with a limited implementation of the Comprehensive Sexual Education law, hospitalization rates were falling and challenged Rubinstein on why abortion was being proposed as a solution rather than better sexual education.

Now, as deputies try to pass a law that would improve the rolling out of sexual education across the country, pro-choice deputies and protestors are trying to block the measure. While sexual education is, arguably, in the same ball park as the abortion bill and formed part of pro-choice protestor’s chants (“Sex education to choose, contraceptives to not abort, legal abortion to not die”), PRO politician Silvia Lospennato reminded pro-life deputies that when they rejected the bill, they “committed” to encourage full compliance with the Sex Education Law. “We want to know if they are going to keep their word,” she said yesterday.

(Photo via TN).

Argentine politics is practically defined by the grieta, the ideological divide between the Right and the Left, but the abortion debate forged a new gulf, between the verdes and the celestes. The divisions over the issue of abortion transcended party politics and have endured past the lifespan of the failed bill, rearing their heads once again as deputies discuss this new bill. And the electorate is taking notice.

Within two weeks of the Senate’s rejection of the bill, a Chrome extension named Será Ley (It Will Be Law) was launched by two friends who have chosen to remain anonymous. The idea is that once downloaded, a green emoji heart ? will appear next to the names of politicians who voted in favor of the bill and a poo emoji ? next to the names of those who voted against it.

“It’s not our intention to make ourselves known,” one of the extension’s founders told The Bubble. “We are just two friends who work in advertising and wanted to do something for the cause. Although the choice of the emojis was a bit naughty, it seemed a good tool [for people to be able] to recognize all the Senators and Deputies and vote with their conscience in 2019 elections.”

The failed abortion bill will likely be a key topic of debate as Argentina’s legislature gears up for 2019’s Presidential Elections, featuring not only in discussions between candidates, but also as a determining factor in which way people will vote. Even though this attempt to legalize abortion did not pass, the contentious issue seems set to remain at the forefront of politics for the coming future.